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Packers rookie report: Week 15

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Dan Arkush

darkush@pfwmedia.com
Executive editor

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By Dan Arkush

Here’s a look at how the Packers’ first-year players are faring through 14 games:

OT Bryan Bulaga (first round): Bulaga’s pass protection has been sporadic the last two games. Against New England Sunday night, he could have been in better position to take on Patriots OLB Tully Banta-Cain on the game’s final play, which resulted in a sack of Matt Flynn and then a fumble. But a bigger breakdown came 65 seconds earlier when Bulaga blew a block on Patriots LB Dane Fletcher, who proceeded to deliver a key sack. The Packers’ offensive line did a much better job overall run-blocking than it did the previous week in the loss to Detroit, but Bulaga continues to have a tendency to fall off his run blocks.

DE Mike Neal (second round): Neal was placed on injured reserve before the Jets game in Week Eight with a season-ending shoulder injury. He showed good potential in the two games in which he was able to play, but he had problems staying healthy.

SS Morgan Burnett (third round): Burnett was placed on injured reserve after suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week Four. He entered the season as the starting strong safety after an excellent offseason and training camp.
 
TE Andrew Quarless (fifth round): After registering his best numbers of the season against the Lions in Week 14 (team-high five catches for a team-high 62 yards), Quarless was not much of a factor in the New England game, catching two of the four passes thrown his way for 12 yards. For the season, he now has 19 catches for 217 yards (11.4 ypc) and one TD. While he continues to display flashes every now and then, he has been a major downgrade from the injured Jermichael Finley.

OG Marshall Newhouse (fifth round): Newhouse has yet to be activated this season and remains an emergency insurance policy for the offensive line.

RB James Starks (sixth round): Despite his very impressive pro debut in the Week 13 win over the Niners (18 carries for a team-high 73 yards), Starks was a rather curious addition to the inactive list for the Patriots game. As it turned out, the Packers decided to activate Korey Hall over Starks because of Hall’s superior special-teams skills. It will be interesting to see if Starks re-enters the RB mix in a more prominent manner in the final two regular-season games.

DE C.J. Wilson (seventh round): Despite getting more playing time with Cullen Jenkins still sidelined with a calf injury, Wilson failed to get on the stat sheet for the second week in a row last week but showed decent penetration on a few plays.

Undrafted rookies:

OLB Frank Zombo — Zombo, who has done a surprisingly solid job as the team’s starting right outside linebacker in place of the injured Brad Jones, missed the New England game after spraining his knee the previous week in Detroit. The Packers are hoping he will be good to go this Sunday against the Giants. Zombo has 38 tackles in the 13 games in which he has played (eighth-most on the team) along with four sacks for 34 yards in losses and a pair of forced fumbles.

CB-RS Sam Shields — The fleet-footed Shields continues to mostly hold his own as the nickel corner, but he was the primary defender on the TD catch by Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez that turned out to be the game-winning score in Week 15. Still considered to be a good bet to go the distance on a kickoff return before the season runs its course, Shields returned six kickoffs for 128 yards against the Pats, including a long of 45.

TE Tom Crabtree — Having primarily become a run blocker, Crabtree got a rare opportunity to make his presence felt as a receiver at a key point in the Patriots game. But he couldn’t come through on a 3rd-and-1 pass from Flynn at the Patriots' two-yard line early in the fourth quarter.

RB Dimtri Nance — Nance got an opportunity to strut his stuff as part of the Packers’ halfback rotation against New England. But he did too much dancing and not enough north-south running on six carries for only 11 yards.

OL Nick McDonald — The undrafted center-guard from Division II Grand Valley State is currently the team’s 10th offensive lineman and is not likely to see any playing time unless there is suddenly a major rash of injuries on the O-line. But the Packers like his versatility and toughness and believe he could have a promising future.

CB Josh Gordy — Previously having spent four months with Jacksonville as a rookie free agent before being cut Sept. 1, Gordy is fast and athletic with skills similar to those of Shields. While he is expected to contribute more in the future, he shapes up as an emergency fill-in for now.

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